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Android: a lack of software to take advantage of high-end mobiles?

I’ve got an pre-release version of Oppo’s Find X2 smartphone for review. It’s a great device and with an outstanding camera. I reviewed it for The Register here.

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In preparing the review I asked a few people what they would like in a high-end android mobile. Things like an excellent display, fast performance, strong camera and plenty of storage all get mentioned, but then I see people spending most of their time on social media and wonder if even mid-range mobiles are perfectly good enough for the average user. 5G has huge potential (and the Find X2 is a 5G device), but coverage is limited, you will pay the operator quite a bit more, and arguably it needs to reach a tipping point where enough people have it that we can design new applications to take advantage; until then, it’s nice to have faster internet but not game-changing.

Notably missing from our Find X2 press briefing was any demonstration along the lines of “you should see the amazing performance on application x”, where application x is something familiar rather than a benchmark. Gaming is one area where faster hardware does make a difference, having said which, Android and iOS still tend to be the home for casual games and a mobile platform can never compete with the monster GPUs you can plug into a desktop or even a gaming laptop. Unless you stream the games, and shift the need for intensive compute power into the cloud.

Local storage? Handy for a video library to play on a train or flight, or for audiophiles to store huge files full of arguably inaudible data, but for most of us cloud storage makes a local storage less important once it is enough. What is enough? Probably less than the 512GB on the Find X2. It is nice to have, say for capturing 4K video without anxiety, but a lot of people simply do not need to think about how much storage they have once it is beyond 128GB or so.

Photography remains a key feature and one where local compute power does make a big difference – since mobile cameras are as much about digital processing as about optics. I would argue though that one of the reasons vendors have got carried away with multiple lenses and amazing capabilities in mobile cameras is that it remains an area where useful improvements are attainable – perhaps beyond the importance of these improvements to most users. As with gaming, there is a problem in that actual cameras will always be preferable to the camera in a smartphone, for the best results, though the great thing about smartphones is that they are always in your pocket.

The question then: could there be another wave of software that will make the hardware on a modern high-end smartphone more desirable?

Another way of putting is is that it is software, not hardware, that will radically improve smartphones, which explains the lack of excitement around today’s big releases.

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